In the busy days leading up to Christmas, we are pleased to bring you a very special blog post. Fergus Wessel has a unique profession and a unique perspective on something many of us never think about until we’re forced to…memorial markers aka headstones aka tombstones. I read a blog post by Fergus where he talked about creating personalized memorials for children’s graves. I was touched by his words and his take on memorial markers and had to ask him to guest blog for us. We’ve had guest bloggers on this subject before because the creation of a memorial for your loved one can be a healing part of the grieving process. I hope you find Fergus’ words and work as special as we did, a fascinating and interesting read to catch your attention during this emotional time of year. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator
I am a letter cutter and I specialise in hand carved memorials. When I started my work I envisaged that I would be spending most of my time on large scale architectural work and opening plaques, but over the years my work has become more and more centred on making bespoke memorials. People ask me why I would want to spend my time making headstones, and isn’t it a very morbid job, and I answer that far from it, it is the most satisfying and worthwhile vocation.
Unlike large scale monumental masons, my work is incredibly client focused involving a very close working relationship based on mutual trust and understanding. People come to me wanting to interpret their thoughts when they themselves don’t always know what they want. What they all have in common however, is a desire to commemorate their loved one in the most fitting fashion. Below I share some insights and advice on choosing a headstone for your loved one.
Just as every person is unique, so I believe they each need a completely unique headstone. I usually start with a meeting with the client if possible, and they often come to me with some words and an idea of whether they might like a light or dark coloured stone. Sometimes they have an image in mind that they might want for a carving. Almost anything that can be drawn onto paper can be transferred to stone, as long as the design is not overcomplicated. When it comes to the wording, when asked for guidance I always try to encourage people to come up with their own epitaphs instead of choosing from a prescribed list. This can take time, but over the years I have had the privilege of carving some beautiful words. Try to avoid cliches like “in loving memory”, as these are often overused and tend to go in and out of fashion. This is your chance to say what you want to say, not what thousands of others have said.
Do not feel hurried. Some people feel guilty for not placing a memorial stone within a year of the death. I encourage people to wait at least a year before even thinking about the memorial as this allows time for emotions to settle. Do not worry about what other people will think if the grave is left unmarked for some time. In the long term they will understand when they see the fitting tribute you finally commission.
Think about other senses such as touch. Many people like my pebble style headstones which are perfectly smooth and inviting to touch, especially when commissioning a stone for a child. These pebble stones are slightly less formal than a traditional headstone. One client asked for a hole to be carved in the stone, again with perfectly smooth sides which are wonderfully tactile.
Don’t try to fit too much onto the stone. Sometimes “less is more” and the simplest stones can be the most moving. Choosing a beautiful material and good design is all you need. You don’t even need to include someone’s full names and dates. It is your choice. For a really personal touch, some people like to include a message to be carved on the stone which will lie beneath the ground; a personal message between you and your loved one.
When choosing the material, think about the location of the stone as well as the wording. If possible, you want the stone to fit in with the surroundings, and you need to bear in mind the local envrionment, such as whether or not the stone will be in constant shade in a damp location. The amount of text will also dictate the material to some extent as a soft material like limestone for example needs large bold lettering, whereas a harder stone like slate or granite can take small, detailed lettering.
Ask to see the stone when it has been drawn out before it is cut if possible. This will give you a chance to make changes if necessary. Sometimes you can only make these decisions once you see the design on the stone.
Commissioning a headstone can be very stressful and traumatic if done in a hurry with little regard to your feelings. However I believe that if you can find a mason who truly listens to you and is prepared to spend time on your design, and is happy to redraft it again and again until it is exactly what you want , then the whole process can be incredibly therapeutic and moving. My clients usually come and see me at least twice during the commissioning process, and are often present when I fix the stone in position, so they can be involved in every stage of the process. This involvement is important so that the headstone is their tribute and not mine. Over the years I have had the privilege to meet and get to know some incredibly brave and wonderful people, and the relationships that we have forged are very special; it is a real honour to be involved in something so personal and my clients put all their trust in me, and for that I am truly humbled.
Images courtesy Fergus Wessel.